MACHINE CONTROL TECHNOLOGY – Who has time for stringlines?

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Updated: July 8, 2016

WORDS / JOEL SEDDON, POSITION PARTNERS – For Earthmoving Equipment Magazine

Whether you adopt laser-guided, manual machine control or a fully-fledged automated system, bypassing stringlines altogether is a must to save time, increase efficiency and reduce manpower. South Australian contracting firm Morgan Earthmoving has never used stringlines and can’t see why anyone would with machine control technology as readily available and cost effective as it is now.

Although 3D machine control is now widely adopted and commonly required for major civil projects, it is often overlooked for smaller commercial or residential work. Perhaps the perception is that it is too complicated, too expensive, or simply that contractors are used to working without it and see no reason to change.

Challenging that perception are hundreds of technology-embracing companies such as Morgan Earthmoving, a contracting business based in Murray Bridge, South Australia. Founded 16 years ago by brothers Stewart and Rob Morgan, they specialise in all forms of civil and agricultural earthmoving applications, including sub divisions, site preparation and road construction for clients throughout the state.

Having never used a stringline to complete a project, Stewart Morgan says contractors need to embrace technology because the productivity and efficiency gains are too big to ignore. “Before we got our automatic machine control we used the manual receivers, and before that we used dumpy levels and tape, but I’ve never used a stringline and I never would,” he said.

“By the time you’ve set up a stringline you could have just about finished the job. Plus there’s the additional manual labour to set them up and take them down. The machine control system is so easy to use, you just hop in the cab, set it to auto and away you go. I can’t understand why anyone would use stringlines nowadays,” he added.

Morgan Earthmoving has Topcon’s System 5 automatic, 2D machine control systems installed on a Komatsu GD-825 and Volvo 720, with a third system soon to be installed on another Komatsu grader.

System 5 is an advanced, automated machine control solution that delivers consistent hydraulic response to the machine blade for smooth grading operation. With slope capabilities up to 100 per cent, it is ideal for use in a wide range of applications including pads, railways, dams, commercial sites, sports grounds and bulk earthworks.

Combining a trackerjack laser receiver, sonic tracker, slope sensor and easy-to-operate control box mounted inside the cabin of the machine, Topcon System 5 automatically controls the blade of the machine to get to grade faster.

“Before investing in the automated system, we used the manual machine-mounted laser receivers,” Mr Morgan explained. “We still use them on our scrapers and for other bulk work, but for fine tolerance grading you can’t go past the automatic system,” he added.

“Our operators love it because they complete the work faster and more efficiently, plus it reduces fatigue because you don’t have to follow the system manually.”

In terms of accuracy, Mr Morgan is proud to say that all their work falls within 10-20mm tolerances.

“We get our lasers serviced and calibrated regularly at Position Partners’ local branch in Adelaide to make sure they’re always working in optimum condition,” he said.

Morgan Earthworks uses a Topcon RL-200 dual grade laser across all applications on site, including bulk earthworks, grading, drainage and pipe work. Complete with full-function remote, the RL-200 dual grade laser is a hard-wearing, easy-to-use laser with slope capability up to 25 per cent without slope blocks.

In addition to using the grade laser with the 2D automatic systems for grading applications, Morgan Earthmoving utilises the laser with Topcon LS-100 machine-mounted receivers. The LS-100 series is ideal for bulk earthworks applications for dozers, scrapers, excavators, backhoes and drag boxes. Featuring simple, secure mechanical mounting, 360-degree beam detection and adjustable on-grade accuracy, the LS-100 series helps users get to grade faster and more efficiently. They are easy to swap between machines to give you flexibility for use throughout the project.

When asked why they chose Topcon lasers and machine control, Mr Morgan said: “I think if you find something that works, you stick with it. I’ve always used Topcon and found it to be a very reliable and easy-to-use brand, so I’m not going to change a good thing.”

As the company has grown, so too has the need to complete jobs as efficiently as possible. “I wouldn’t say that the machine control systems have helped us to win more work, but they have certainly helped us to deliver on larger, more complex projects and complete the work on schedule and on budget,” Mr Morgan said.

In terms of training employees on how to use the systems, Mr Morgan said that the systems were quite intuitive to use. “The guys from Position Partners helped us initially with some on-site training, but to be honest they are so easy to use that once you’ve got a basic understanding you can figure the rest as you go.”

He added that having local support from Topcon’s Australian distributor Position Partners is important: “It’s great to have a local branch and the support of the team behind us if we need them.

“Although they sometimes get really busy, I’ve always found them to be very knowledgeable and quick to help us if we need support. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

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(L-R) Stewart Morgan, Position Partners’ Founder Bob Bent, and Ashley Morgan